ACI: On the Matter of Deposing Bishops at a Time of Communion Self-Assessment

In this case, a central clue as to what is going on was given by Bp. Schofield’s March 12 Statement in response to the vote to depose him on the basis of his having “abandoned the Communion of the Church” (Canon IV.9.2): “I have not abandoned the Faith,” Schofield stated; “I resigned from the American House of Bishops and have been received into the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone. Both Houses are members of the Anglican Communion. They are not ”“ or should not be ”“ two separate Churches.” Bp. Schofield’s point is straightforward: if the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone is not a “separate church” from TEC, how can he have “abandoned” the “Communion” of TEC’s own ecclesial existence? Does in fact TEC “recognize” the Southern Cone as an Anglican Church with which she is in communion? In what sense, then, is “abandonment” taken?

The basic ecclesial issue, then, is one of recognizability. Yet this is just the issue that is at stake in the Anglican Communion’s current struggles. Archbishop Rowan Williams himself spoke to it straightforwardly last December in his Advent Letter to the Primates. The Anglican Communion’s “unity”, he wrote, “depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments. To put it in slightly different terms, local churches acknowledge the same ‘constitutive elements’ in one another. This means in turn that each local church receives from others and recognises in others the same good news and the same structure of ministry, and seeks to engage in mutual service for the sake of our common mission.” The issue of “recognisability”, of course, is more than a matter of Anglican Communion concern; it has become a central feature of ecumenical discernment. And therefore, the fact that the Presiding Bishop, her advisors, and the House of Bishops as a whole can determine that Bishops Schofield and Cox are worthy of deposition under Canon IV.9.2 would seem to indicate that they believe that both bishops and the Province of the Southern Cone do not share with TEC in the “constitutive elements” of “church” in the fundamental ways that provide “communion”.

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